Chapter 1: If you play with fire
Kravitz was having, to put it bluntly, a long fucking night.
He had gotten reports of a small cult that had managed to unearth some old and nasty necromantic rituals, and had carefully tracked them to a small village not far from Goldcliff.
It had seemed like good timing to Kravitz; scaring a small group of would-be necromancers into respecting The Raven Queen’s laws was just the break he needed from the endless paperwork awaiting him in the Astral Plane.
He didn’t mind paperwork, usually. The organisation and precise nature of it appealed to him; and he had beautiful penmanship if he did say so himself. But sometimes, he just needed a change of pace. A chance to stretch his legs, summon his scythe, put the fear of the Raven Queen into some delinquents.
An enjoyable friday night by all accounts.
Kravitz genuinely enjoyed this aspect of his job, and he was pretty sure that wasn’t too blasphemous, though he did generally try to keep it to himself. Necromancers were a scourge on the world that needed to be constantly kept in check and reminded of his Goddess’ power. What was so wrong with Kravitz deriving pleasure from being the one to do so? What was so wrong with enjoying a bit of theatricality and some screaming necromancers who would soon know better than to cross his Queen?
So Kravitz had seen the report detailing the minor necromantic energy in the area outside Goldcliff, and remembered his recent visit to the Goldcliff University to investigate the theft of some of their ‘historical’ and ‘just for academic purposes’ necromantic texts.
That had been fun too, the research assistant he spoke to had been all too happy to tell Kravitz everything he wanted to know as quickly as possible so he could escape Kravitz’s red, unblinking glare.
Kravitz had been glad to avoid speaking to any of the actual professors who studied necromancy. They weren’t afraid of him, as was proper; they tended to want to ask him questions about his undeath, and his Queen, and tried to poke his constructed body with their latest and pointiest magical instruments.
He may have broken a few last time. Instruments, that is, not professors.
So after recommending that the appropriately terrified research assistant try for a position with the transmutation department instead, he had spent the afternoon tracking the ‘totally just for academic purposes, really Mr Reaper’ scrolls and tomes that had gone missing.
Necromantic texts that old tended to give off a kind of… feeling. At least to someone old, undead, and very familiar with necromancy. Someone, unfortunately for whoever now had the texts, like Kravitz.
He had been unable to find the texts that day, too much time and distance between him and the accursed things. But now that he had a general location to start with…
He had followed the uncomfortable buzzing feeling that signalled the written form of messy and disturbing necromantic sigils and rituals, all the way out to here, this unassuming village bordered by a forest.
A non-magical forest - he’d checked. He had learned that lesson the hard way.
Kravitz was almost looking forward to putting on a scary show, and maybe reaping some souls if they had dabbled too far already. He was definitely looking forward to confiscating those scrolls and tomes that, in his opinion, the University did not need. Neither did any would-be necromancy upstarts.
He managed to pinpoint exactly where the texts were being kept, assumedly the base of operations, which turned out to be a large hunting lodge away from that main village that was probably chosen for its large but poorly hidden cellar.
Upon further investigation, said cellar had been cleaned out and obviously set up for dark rituals. It now housed an altar, black curtains (despite the lack of windows), dodgily painted sigils, some small animal bones that served no apparent purpose, and far more black candles than Kravitz felt was strictly necessary.
The whole thing looked like a fire hazard, on top of being in quite poor taste.
Kravitz’s whole incorporeal body jolted when he realised that the terrible decor had managed to distract him, for a moment, from the bigger picture.
The sigils and tomes scattered haphazardly around the room were not the first awkward fumblings of a small group just beginning to flirt with basement necromancy. This was serious stuff, and the deliberately dangerous combinations of certain sigils suggested that at least one person here knew far too much about what to do with them.
Kravitz’s eyes darted around the room, all sorts of terrible connections dawning on him as he recalled all the preliminary reports on his desk that needed going over, all detailing the sudden rash of small necromantic incidents in about a dozen towns across a wide area.
Or not so small, apparently. This had to be the work of a massive, coordinated group.
Kravitz was yanked from his musings by the sudden presence of a powerful necromantic force somewhere nearby. An undead feeling that powerful was undoubtedly a bad thing, but it had also had the bonus effect of snapping Kravitz’s senses back to the task at hand just in time.
He could now feel a group of living souls in the cabin above him, and they sounded like they were starting to descend into the cellar.
Irritated at himself for not making these connections earlier, and for being denied the chance to investigate further, Kravitz let himself become incorporeal and sank into the section of wall that had been decorated with the unnecessary and gaudy black curtains.
Incongruous though it was to have curtains on a blank wall, Kravitz did have to admit they made a convenient shadowed place to have his eyes stick out of.
The dozen living souls that were clearly his intended targets came into the room in an orderly line, wearing robes that appeared to be made of the same heavy, ugly, black material as the curtains Kravitz was hiding in.
The first cultist waved a robed arm and lit the excessive number of black candles with a cantrip as he swept in, moving to stand in front of the altar as the rest formed a neat circle around it.
The apparent leader began a slow, deep chant and was quickly joined by the others. The sound reverberated off the cellar walls unpleasantly, and was accompanied by a sinking feeling where Kravitz’s stomach would be.
He had an awful suspicion that he knew where this ritual was going.
That, and the fact that Kravitz could still feel a powerful undead presence meant that he had to act now, with less information than he would have liked.
Still quite grumpy at being left with no time to investigate this probable connection, and at not making that link earlier, Kravitz found himself on the verge of quite keen to take his bad mood out on some idiots in flammable cloth wrappings.
Kravitz floated slowly forwards, out of the curtained wall and into the room, his skeletal form drenched in shadows that were not entire mundane in origin and his red-flamed eyes fixed on the lead cultist.
When he first appeared, he was amused to note a few cultists with eager expressions, as if a skeleton emerging from the curtains was the intended result of this blasphemous ritual.
Their expressions quickly became significantly less eager when they registered the the scythe and the impressive feathered cloak.
A few cultists startled, switching abruptly from chanting to screeching, and Kravitz had to resist the urge to patronisingly tap his foot while he waited for them to stop.
“BE QUIET SO I CAN READ YOU YOUR LIST OF CRIMES.” He boomed over the top of the noise, stunning them all them into silence. “That’s better now, isn’t it?”
The cultists were treated to the deeply disconcerting sight of a skull grinning unhappily at them. It would have been hard for any of them to say how they knew the grin was an unhappy one, being on a skull, but they knew.
“Now,” Kravitz started, summoning his tome of bounties with a sweep of his skeletal hand, “you are hereby bid by the Raven Queen to answer for your ill-conceived and poorly decorated crimes against Life and Death, up to and including-”
“Oh my gods Gareth I fucking told you your curtains were stupid, look even this guy thinks your curtains are fucking stupid!” One cultist was apparently over their shock and was pointing angrily at another. Or reacting strangely because of the shock, one could never tell with humanoids.
The cultist on the receiving end of the pointing put their hands on their hips. “Give me a break, Karen, you brought in deer bones from the forest. They don’t even look cool. At least the curtains add some ambience. Plus they make it echo less when we’re chanting!”
“Hey fuck you! If you want a ritual chamber that didn’t echo you can go find one yourself! This was my grandfather’s cabin and we used to hunt deer here every summer when we were children-”
Kravitz shut the tome containing his To Reap list with a much louder bang than a book of that size was usually capable of producing, and continued forcefully, “ including crimes against the natural order of Life and Death and so on, necromancy is bad etcetera, the Raven Queen is very disappointed in you.” He paused here for effect and was gratified to when they all stayed quiet this time. “And now... you’re all comin’ with me.”
He leapt forward and swept his scythe right through the lead cultist, also clipping arm of the one next to them, the one apparently responsible for the curtains, who unfortunately dodged mostly out of the way.
The curtain-cultist yelped and grabbed their arm, even though it had passed right through, and made a garbled screeching sound as the body of their leader crumpled gracelessly on the floor. In fairness, it was impossible to crumple gracefully in a cloak like that.
This was altogether too much screeching in a small and echo-y cellar for Kravitz’s liking, and he glared at the offending party while deftly tucking away the leader’s soul deep into his cloak, to be dealt with later.
While he did this, the crimes-against-curtains cultist was attempting to shuffle backwards without looking away from the reaper, but tripped over their ridiculous robes and went tumbling back onto the altar.
Unfortunately, the altar was home to a large quantity of tall black candles.
Kravitz appeared to have been correct earlier. They were definitely a fire hazard.
He was distracted from the freshly fiery cultist when he was forced to duck out of the way of a well-aimed Firebolt. Honestly, the mixture of competence and incompetence of this particular group was doing his head in.
Competence in that the Firebolt was well-aimed and might have hit Kravitz if he’d stayed still. Incompetence in that it was possibly a poor choice of spell in a room where the cultist occupants had just been proven to be highly flammable. As were the curtains behind Kravitz that got hit when he ducked.
Soon half the room was awash with flames and screeching, and despite the impossibility of it, Kravitz could swear he was getting a headache.
The nine cultists still in action (minus the one he had already killed, the one who had set themselves on fire, and the one who was attempting to put them out with their own, also highly flammable, robe) were unfortunately fairly decent magic users.
Kravitz had managed to swing his scythe through another cultist and capture their soul before the rest realised it might be a good idea to try blocking with their staffs. Smarter than they looked, apparently.
He stepped back to regroup, and decided to just reap the still flaming cultist on the floor, if only to stop the gods-awful screeching.
With a sweep of his scythe the room was blessedly free of screeching for an enjoyable moment.
Unfortunately, the now cloakless cultist who had been utterly failing to extinguish their friend took this opportunity to hit Kravitz pretty solidly with an Eldritch Blast and send him staggering back. Into the flaming curtains.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Kravitz spat, feeling a little singed even as he willed his construct not to catch fire.
He ripped the burning drapes from the wall and hurled them at the nearest cluster of cultists, who all immediately fell over each other trying to get out of the way and were thus a perfectly tangled mess for the fiery cloth to land on and ignite.
That set off a whole new round of echo-y screaming, which Kravitz honestly should have expected if he’d taken a moment to think about it.
He grimly ignored it and faced the Eldritch Blast-er next to him. They had their quarterstaff up and pointed at Kravitz again, so he jabbed his scythe under it to hit the cultist square in the stomach, interrupting their casting.
The cultist tried to take a big gulp of air after having it all knocked out of him, only for his lungs to cease working when Kravitz got the blade of the scythe behind him and pulled ; neatly separating the soul from the body and drawing it towards himself so he could stash it in his cloak with the others.
Kravitz quite liked this cloak, it was a gift from his Queen. He would be extremely unhappy if it was burnt.
Unfortunately for his cloak, and especially the feathers adorning it, the cultist with a proclivity for Firebolts was back at it again, despite the general flammable-ness of the room. Perhaps they’d reasoned that the room couldn’t get any more on fire than it already was.
They might be correct about that. But Kravitz could.
When the Firebolt struck him in the middle of the back, Kravitz swore and turned around, cutting his scythe through the air in a wide arc as he spun. It didn’t hit the cultist, as impressive at that would have been, but it did swing straight into their quarterstaff and the unexpected force knocked it out of their hands and across the room.
Kravitz stalked closed and brought his scythe up, ready to remove the soul from this irritating cultist’s body in a dramatic downward sweep, and was met with a dagger jabbed uselessly between the bones of his ribcage.
He looked under the cultist’s hood and was gratified to find they looked a little sheepish.
Kravitz brought the scythe down and pulled yet another soul under his cloak until he had a moment to deal with them all.
That moment did not appear to be now.
The three burning cultists had wrestled their way out of the curtain and dropped their flaming cloaks before they could get much more than moderately singed. They still didn’t look particularly happy.
They and the other two still-cloaked cultists left had spread out now, and looked to all be readying spells.
“I suppose there’s no chance you’d all be interested in putting down your wands and joining your friends here in my cloak?” Kravitz asked, doubtfully.
He didn’t really expect an answer, which was fortunate because he did not get one.
Kravitz leapt towards the closest one, right as they all started casting on him. All fire related spells, he noticed as two flew past his head. No marks in creativity for this cult.
The other three spells hit their target. Turns out you didn’t need too much creativity when you had an massive numbers advantage.
Kravitz managed to slice his scythe through his target, but he could feel his construct wanting to come apart - it had sustained a lot of damage already. And he couldn’t concentrate on holding this form together while also fighting the last four cultists.
He made a decision, and quickly cut open a small rift and sent the souls he had collected so far into a little pocket of the Astral Plane where they could stay for a short while.
This gave the remaining cultists time to prepare another spell, and after the first one hit the mark, Kravitz’s body stopped being able to hold itself together and simply disappeared.
The remaining four necromancers watched as Kravitz’s poor cloak fell sadly and singedly to the ground in the now quiet cellar.
They all looked fairly confused about what to do next, as if they weren’t quite sure about the protocol for being left standing in a burning room full of their coworkers’ corpses.
They did not notice a dark shape coalescing from the shadows behind them.
“Thought I’d given up the ghost, eh? No such luck, I’m afraid.” Kravitz allowed himself to enjoy their startled jumps for only half a second before he moved.
It had taken an enormous amount of effort to reform his construct so quickly, but like hell was he letting them know that.
Kravitz swung in a wide horizontal arc, sending his scythe slicing through the two cultists in front of him, and grabbed their souls in his bony hand.
Of the two left, only one managed to get off a spell - another Firebolt, honestly - before Kravitz was in scythe-ing range and they could cast no more.
And then there was only Death.
The room still gave off the impression of movement; the firelight from the still-burning curtains and unfortunately-robed cultists sending flickering shadows dancing across the walls.
Kravitz sighed deeply and cut open a small portal to where the other souls were and deposited the four new ones.
He sighed again when he picked up his favourite cloak, still lightly smoking from too many uninspiring fire spells.
He put it on anyway, and turned to consider how he was going to deal with the atrociously drawn, but still dangerous, sigils on the walls.
At least the rest of the mess wasn’t his problem.
Kravitz slowly dragged himself up the stone stairs to the main area of the cabin. His form may not have any muscles, but he still ached and needed a break from this night.
Kravitz was not looking forward to the paperwork on this. He would have to collate all the reports from the area over the last couple of years, see what was connected and what wasn’t, and definitely figure out why they hadn’t seen it sooner.
He’d been wanting a break from the near endless paperwork pile that was his desk, but he had not been expecting to have to fight a dozen hot-tempered necromancers, have to reform his whole construct near instantly, and uncover a widespread coordinated necromancy plot.
And there was probably other sections of this cult still out there, that would go to ground if he didn’t find them fast. At least he knew what he was up against now.
Kravitz would admit, if questioned, that he was a little distracted by his internal monologue of exhaustion and annoyance. So while he hadn’t quite forgotten the strong necromantic presence that had appeared earlier, it had certainly been moved to the backburner of his mind while he dealt with the clusterfuck downstairs.
As a result, his eyes were only drawn to the bookshelf in the far corner of the cabin when the figure standing in front of it shifted slightly.
A familiar red figure.
“Oh no. Not a fucking chance. I am far too tired to deal with this particular brand of bullshit tonight.”
Barry Bluejeans looked up from his inspection of the, undoubtedly necromantic, scroll in his mage hand and was managing to eye Kravitz’s form amusedly despite not currently possessing any real eyes. “Hey Kravitz. You’re looking a little, uh, a little singed there, buddy.”
“I am not your buddy,” Kravitz snarled.
“Of course not,” Barry said appeasingly. “So how was work, dear?”
Kravitz looked too angry to form words.
Barry nodded understandingly, “that bad huh? They’re really working you to the bone these days.”
The lich lost composure almost immediately after finishing his sentence, letting out half-choked sounding cackles at his own terrible joke while Kravitz tried to resist the urge to set him on fire.
There had probably been more than enough fire for one night, and it would only start a very short-lived and embarrassing fight for Kravitz if he attacked this particular lich in his current exhausted condition.
Barry gamely made a show of pulling himself together.
“I’m sorry bud- uh, Kravitz. Couldn’t help myself.” Barry paused, as if considering his next words carefully.
“You, uh, you really don’t look so good, though. You’ve got kind of a singed raven thing going on which, you know, keeps with your general vibe but uh… really didn’t expect these guys to be able to give you much of a fight. They seemed pretty incompetent, actually.”
A more serious tone had crept into his voice this time. If Kravitz didn’t know better, he’d think Barry was concerned for him.
And it’s not like Kravitz didn’t agree with him. He had underestimated them too, until he made the connection to the spree of similar rituals. And, if he’d had his way, he certainly wouldn’t have fought a large number of cultists in a cramped basement with little to no information on their power levels.
But he and Barry were not friends, not even close. Kravitz had come out of encounters with Barry looking far worse than he currently did.
“And how would you know about their level of competence? Are you involved with this cult?” Even as he said it, Kravitz couldn’t see it being true. “This kind of ritual doesn’t seem like your usual area, the kind of power they were trying to summon would be nothing to a lich of your level,” Kravitz added grumpily.
Barry gave a small chuckle. “Involved? Uh, no. Nope. Although, when I heard they had stolen some interesting scrolls I’d been wanting to get my hands on I did try to, uh, infiltrate their group.” The hooded lich shook his head, “I made a pretty convincing human disguise and offered them some choice necromancy tips, sorry about that, but they, uh, didn’t really go for it.”
Kravitz almost laughed at that. “I can’t really blame them. I’ve seen your human disguise, Bluejeans, and you dress like a farmer. Doesn’t exactly fit in with the usual necromantic aesthetic. You’d probably get further if you told them you were someone’s dad and offered them milk and cookies rather than advice about dark arcana.”
Barry snorted at that.
“Shows what they know,” he said in an amused voice. “First off, I can’t bake - or cook - for shit. I’ve been booted out of the kitchen for trying to make toast. On several occasions.”
Kravitz was both amused and also uncomfortably reminded of why so many conversations with this particular lich always caught him off guard. Who was booting an extremely powerful lich out of a kitchen? Why was he in a kitchen, apparently failing to toast bread, in the first place?
He certainly wasn’t speaking as if this was all a long time ago, before he’d become a lich and had time to get so powerful and controlled that he could escape a reaper as old as Kravitz. Why did he always come across so… normal?
Barry continued in a dry tone of voice, “And second, those idiots don’t know what they’re missing out on, ignoring my vast knowledge of, uh, ‘dark arcana’. Warding against reapers, for starters. And their sigils, my gods, I can’t believe they haven’t fucked up and gotten themselves killed with sigil placement that sloppy. Well, you know, gotten themselves killed by their sigils failing, instead of by a pissed off reaper.” Barry appeared to be trying to wink at him by blinking off one of his flaming eyes very deliberately.
Again, Kravitz almost laughed at Barry’s antics. But his words had been a sobering reminder of exactly what he was joking around with here.
This man, this lich, standing before him and chatting amiably was not normal at all. He was a self confessed necromancer, and an extremely powerful undead creature. He knew how to ward against detection by reapers, and he knew so much about necromancy and rituals that he could critique other people’s sigil placement. Kravitz didn’t even know when he’d had a chance to see the, admittedly sloppy, sigils drawn in the cellar.
And while Kravitz himself had a great deal of knowledge about necromancy, that knowledge belonging to a lich, no matter how friendly and non-threateningly dressed that lich sometimes was, sat uncomfortably for Kravitz.
He wished, not for the first time, that Barry Bluejeans was not openly and obviously continuing to seek and use necromancy at every given opportunity. He wished that Barry was the nice man he had sounded like ever since they’d managed a conversation amongst their irregularly scheduled showdowns. One who had gotten in too deep with the wrong crowd, and who Kravitz could scare with tales about the Eternal Stockade, lose a few rounds of cards with, and let him off with a warning.
But there was no such thing as becoming a lich by accident. No way to become as proficient and powerful at necromantic magic as Barry by merely stumbling into it. Kravitz had only run into Barry tonight because he was here seeking the powerful old scrolls that this cult had stolen. Detecting him through his reaper magic only happened rarely; when Kravitz got lucky, or when Barry messed up - or even wanted to be found.
And now Kravitz also wished that his complicated feelings surrounding this lich, who was quite possibly playing him, did not exist and thus could be detected by the room’s other occupant.
Barry was now standing quietly, giving off a vaguely understanding air that Kravitz hated.
They had been almost laughing together a few moments ago, and when Kravitz had suddenly gone serious at the mention of Barry’s considerable knowledge of necromancy, it would not have been a huge leap for Barry to figure out why. He was a very smart man, unfortunately. And they had had conversations like this before.
Barry carefully put down the scroll in his hands, not looking away from Kravitz.
“I suppose this, uh, means we’re going to fight now?” He sounded resigned.
Kravitz almost said yes out of anger, what fucking right did Barry have to sound resigned? He had chosen to become an abomination. And he wasn’t the one who’d had to reform his entire fucking construct tonight because hunting down leftover cultists was an unnecessary headache on top of night already surpassing its allotment of headaches.
Kravitz sighed, the anger draining as fast as it had come.
“I honestly probably couldn’t at this point. What did you say before - I look like a singed raven?”
And wasn’t it strange, to admit weakness to a lich he’d had some of the biggest showdowns of his undeath with.
He hated to even think it, but he wasn’t at all worried to do so. He knew Barry was about as interested in initiating a fight with Kravitz as he was in coming to the Astral Plane of his own volition.
The man just wasn’t a natural fighter; he tended to fight Kravitz only for as long as it took him to get away. He was definitely a formidable opponent, but he didn’t delight in violence like most liches and necromancers Kravitz had met.
In fact, Barry Bluejeans reminded Kravitz far more of the irritating necromancy professors at Goldcliff University than the bloodthirsty, mad liches he usually had to deal with. Less uncontrolled destruction and desire for power, more unchecked curiosity and enthusiasm for necromancy. Still dangerous, Kravitz knew, but far more annoying than truly evil.
“I mean, yeah, you do look kinda exhausted bud- shit, Kravitz. But I still wouldn’t wanna fight you, you’re a pretty strong opponent! It’s definitely taken me several days to recover from some of our more, uh, explosive meetings.” Barry sounded enthused now, “hey, remember that time in Neverwinter? Hoo boy, I bet that park still hasn’t recovered!”
Kravitz met this unexpected reaction with a silence that lasted a little too long to be comfortable.
Barry was starting to do the lich equivalent of shifting from foot to foot, which mostly made him look like a tattered red drape swaying awkwardly in the breeze.
Kravitz finally managed, “Are you-? Are you seriously trying to make me feel better about myself right now? By reminding me of that time I caused a small earthquake in a park because you raised up all the animal skeletons buried there? Is this a pep talk about my fighting skills from the guy who’s been a major thorn in my side for the last, oh, eight years ?”
Barry had the good grace to look a little sheepish.
Kravitz continued, “you really are something else, Bluejeans. You know that?”
He got a laugh in response.
“Oh Kravitz,” Barry sounded as if he were suppressing giggles, “are you telling me I’m not like the other liches?”
And at that, Kravitz finally did break down and laugh, loudly and helplessly, alongside the absurd creature he knew so well but not at all.
I know this chapter is quite different to the first, in tone and style, especially now Kravitz has someone to talk to other than generic cultists.
I'd really love to know what you think!
When Kravitz finally got his figurative breath back - not even skeletal reapers can talk and laugh at the same time - he had to fight not to lose it again as soon as he looked up at Barry.
Barry had stopped laughing a little while ago, and was now hovering uncertainly in Kravitz’s general direction, looking like he didn’t really know what to do about a helplessly giggling reaper in the aftermath of a joke that probably wasn’t that funny.
“I actually,” Kravitz managed, sobering up as he remembered, “came up here to check on the living souls I can feel nearby. They could be people who just live nearby, or possibly people unfortunate enough to be captured for the next ritual requiring a soul. Or they could be - Raven Queen forbid - more fucking cultists.”
“Oh shit! The captives!” One of the long sleeves of Barry’s robe flew up to cover his burning eyes, like he was attempting to slap his non-existent palm to his non-existent forehead.
Kravitz refused to be distracted by yet another out-of-place and distinctly humanoid-like gesture from Barry.
“You knew they were holding people captive? And you, what, forgot ?” Kravitz let his incredulity show, hoping it sounded like the censure he meant it to be.
“I was going to let them out while you were busy with the cultists! People aren’t usually happy to see a, uh, creepy red-robed ghost, but if it’s a creepy red-robed ghost that’s helping you escape then… Anyway, I was, uh, going to let them out but then I got distracted by this scroll,” Barry gestured to the offending item, “on the risks and rewards of combining semi-unstable sigil fragments together to create a bigger, more powerful magical reaction-”
“Alright, give me that.” Kravitz stepped forward and snatched the scroll off the table where Barry had left it.
“...well I already knew most of the theory anyway…would’ve figured out how to limit the reaction radius safely eventually…” Barry muttered petulantly.
Kravitz glared at him and tucked the scroll into one of the many pockets inside his robe. “This one’s coming to the Astral Plane with the other dumb ideas that no one should have been allowed to write down.”
When he didn’t hear a return quip, he looked up and found Barry substantially more unnerving than moments ago. His flame-eyes were bright, and focused directly on him, like Kravitz had just offered him knowledge beyond his wildest dreams, rather than taken away his new scroll.
Kravitz let the silence stretch out, deeply uncomfortable with this unexpected reaction.
When Barry broke the strange tension, his voice was quiet and reverent.
“Kravitz, my reaper buddy, my spooky pal. If you have some kind of secret library of confiscated and forbidden necromantic texts hidden away in your little corner of the Astral Plane… you could have just fucking told me at the start and I would have stepped right into your interdimensional portal!”
Barry continued to stare directly at Kravitz and he really wished the lich would stop. He couldn’t quite tell if he was 100% kidding, either.
He had to be kidding.
“Er, anyway… the captives are this way.”
Kravitz awkwardly escaped Barry’s discomfiting gaze and shuffled towards a side door of the cabin that led in the vague direction of the group of living souls he could feel.
Unfortunately, his decidedly un-smooth exit was cut off before it could begin.
The door was locked.
He heard a quiet snort and then,
“Kravitz, my man, let me help you out with that.”
Barry sounded a little like he was laughing, and had obviously snapped out of whatever weirdness he’d been channeling a moment ago. He came floating past Kravitz, turning so he could continue facing him as he moved.
Probably so he could make sure to see Kravitz’s expression as he passed directly through the door like the incorporeal being he was. Like they both were.
Kravitz’s bony hand made a dry, grating sound as he failed to resist the urge to drag it down his skull-face.
A quiet laugh not quite disguised as a cough from outside indicated that Barry had heard.
Kravitz pushed down his irritation at Barry. He was really annoyed at himself for being too distracted and tired to remember that he didn’t need doors.
Actually, he could still be annoyed at Barry. He was the one who had distracted him with his odd behaviour - not that Barry’s behaviour could ever be described as anything else. The man- no, lich was a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a tattered red curtain. One of those layers apparently had room for a poorly timed sense of humour.
Said enigma was waiting for Kravitz when he stepped through the door, the flames of his eyes dancing merrily.
Before Kravitz could tell him precisely where he could shove his sense of humour at the present moment, Barry interjected.
“You might wanna, uh, put your person face on before we go see the nice captives. I mean, there’s no need to scare them even more.”
Kravitz made significant eye contact with the lich. “That’s a little rich coming from the floating circus tent of dark energy, don’t you think?”
Barry cackled and let some of the ‘dark energy’ contained in his form spark off him in flickering spectral flames, making himself look even creepier than usual.
It was a display of power so unusual for the lich that Kravitz thought it must be for show, and he felt that the reminder of Barry’s status as an abomination was a little uncalled for when they’d been getting along so well.
“That’s exactly why you should put your best face forward, bud. And trust me, I can obviously appreciate the spooky skeleton look, but, uh, your person face is definitely your better look.”
Barry was ‘winking’ at him again.
He continued on before Kravitz could think of something to say in response to the unnecessary comments and winking - and he would have thought of something, definitely.
“We can’t both turn up to this rescue party looking like creepy yet distinguished magical robed spectres-”
“Oh, is that what you think you look like?”
“-so you have to be the comforting, uh, face. For the captives.” Barry nodded definitively, like he had settled this.
Kravitz did not feel that they had settled this. It was the principle of the thing.
“You were planning on rescuing them while looking…” he gestured to Barry’s general creepiness.
“Hmm, yeah, maybe I could have told them I was actually a ghost? Or, uh, a reaper?”
Kravitz growled and automatically summoned his scythe to his hand.
Barry speedily moved back from Kravitz and said “woah, okay there bud. Not funny, I got it. No reaper jokes for Sir Serious Skeleton over there.”
Kravitz glared some more, just to get the point across.
Then he sighed and tried to concentrate on fleshy thoughts rather than murderous ones.
Barry looked fascinated and not at all squeamish as the muscles, tendons, and skin quickly knitted together across Kravitz’s form; which is about what he should have expected from a prolific necromancer, honestly.
Kravitz shook out his locs, and wrinkled his nose at the onslaught of new sensations. A body was often more trouble than it was worth, and his mood was not helped by being able to smell the charred feathers on his cloak.
As he started walking towards the edge of the forest, within which he could feel the small gathering of living souls, he couldn’t resist the urge to grumble, “would have been more comforting if you had brought your human disguise. How could the captives possibly feel afraid when rescued by someone who looks like an eccentrically dressed university professor who just happens to go hiking in dark forests at night?”
Barry was apparently content to float next to him and chuckle as a response to this.
It was probably not Kravitz’s most wounding comparison, but there was still time.
As they reached the tree line, Kravitz found himself feeling calmer than he had for most of this miserable night. He realised that the pleasant sensation he was experiencing was blessed quiet.
Not the same quiet as his home in the Astral Plane, where he could always hear the gentle sound of the Astral Sea in the background. Here, the background noises of the forest were distinctly alive in a way he wasn’t used to; but it was still worlds away from the echoing cellar.
He was just starting to get suspicious of Barry’s uncharacteristic silence, when it was shattered without warning by the tree next to them chirping,
Kravitz nearly jumped out of his newly gained skin, summoning his scythe to his now slightly skeletal hand and in the same movement pointing it at the talking tree.
This turned out to be precisely enough time for him to realise whose voice he’d just heard.
It also turned out to be enough time for Barry to start absolutely losing himself to gales of laughter at Kravitz’s overreaction to an unarmed child perched in a tree.
Even though Kravitz had seen Barry jump too, out of the corner of his eye.
The reaper dropped his arm and let the scythe disappear, frowning at Barry as he did so.
Angus McDonald, boy detective, appeared to be politely waiting for Barry’s undignified choking sounds to cease.
They did not, but Barry still managed to gasp out, “way to go, kiddo, you scared him half to death!” Before laughing anew at his own joke.
Kravitz was not prepared to admit in any way that he might have found it funny.
Barry managed to pull himself together fairly quickly, which unfortunately meant more talking was possible.
“Hey, Krav, how did the kid scare you anyway? I thought you could sense living souls?” Barry asked.
Kravitz sighed. “It’s not like having good hearing, I have to be actively trying to sense them.”
“So, uh, why weren’t you? We’re in a creepy forest here, bud.”
Kravitz didn’t exactly feel like divulging that he had been distracted by the quiet ambience of the forest at night soothing his headache.
“You’re a lich, the only thing you have to be worried about in this ‘creepy’ forest is me. But you,” he turned to face the tree and its occupant, who was at eye level for once, “have plenty to be worried about. In a forest. At night. Near a necromancy cult .”
Kravitz sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stave off the headache that was definitely getting worse now he had a proper head.
“I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you that this is no place for an eight year old boy.” He said without much optimism.
“I’m nine now, sir!” Angus corrected brightly.
“Oh, yes, that’s much better.”
Angus frowned, “there’s no need for sarcasm, sir. You know I’m the world’s best detective. I helped you with The Case of the Zombie Horses last winter!”
Angus looked past him at Barry to explain enthusiastically, leaning so far forward that Kravitz worried he was going to topple off his branch.
“This underground necromancy group was poisoning people’s prize racehorses, so they could raise them as more powerful undead horses! And then they tried to race the magically enhanced zombie horses! They covered them up as best they could, but they still smelled pretty dead, and kept eating jockeys. We busted them good, right sir?”
“We sure did. Right after you got yourself caught by the cult leader while sneaking around their stables.” Kravitz replied drily.
Angus was unperturbed. “That’s what investigation work is, sir.”
Barry had silently floated closer while Kravitz was bickering with Angus, and spoke from right next to his shoulder. Kravitz didn’t jump this time. He didn’t.
“Investigation work is getting captured? I think you might have, uh, skipped a couple of important detective-ing classes there, Ango.” Barry sounded like he would be grinning if he were capable of it.
Angus shot Barry a withering look that might have been more effective had it not been on a face that cute.
There was something bothering Kravitz about this exchange, aside from even allowing a lich near a child.
“If we’re done insulting my detective skills, despite you both knowing better, could we keep going with the case, sirs? I only hid up a tree because I heard someone crunching through the forest and thought it might be a cultist.”
Oh no. It was the implication of familiarity that was bothering Kravitz. These two knew each other, somehow.
The idea of Angus McDonald having run into something as dangerous as a lich in his investigations sent ice down the middle of Kravitz’s chest.
The child had been lucky that if he’d met a lich, it was this one. But Angus could not have known that at the time, and Kravitz certainly wasn’t going to say so.
“Absolutely not.” Kravitz said immediately. “It’s bad enough that you’ve apparently been consorting with an incredibly dangerous lich enough that he has a nickname for you. I am not bringing you into further danger.”
“Hey!” Barry seemed genuinely offended for the first time since Kravitz had met him. “I wouldn’t hurt a kid, Kravitz. And Ango is way too smart for tricks.”
Kravitz refused to feel bad, even if it was true. Angus was too young to be talking to a lich. Not that there was an acceptable age for that sort of thing.
“Well sir, you also appear to know this lich quite well, so it seems a bit hypocritical to tell me off for consorting with him when you clearly have been too.”
“I haven’t- there’s been no consorting!” Kravitz spluttered.
Barry leaned over and stage whispered to Angus, “ there’s been a little consorting, ” making the young detective giggle.
“There has not! I have been tracking you in order to apprehend you and bring you to face justice before the Raven Queen for your necromantic crimes!” Kravitz tried to look threatening.
He was usually pretty good at that, he felt, but Barry and Angus did not seem to agree.
They shared a look that Kravitz did not appreciate.
“You don’t appear to be apprehending him right now, sir,” Angus pointed out.
Barry groaned. “Don’t go giving him ideas, kiddo!”
Kravitz tried to frown disapprovingly at the child, even though it had never worked before. He still had a better chance directing it as Angus rather than Barry.
“...He’s currently assisting me in this case,” admitted Kravitz.
Angus lit up, and Kravitz immediately knew he’d said the wrong thing.
“I can assist you too, sirs! Or you can assist me, this is a missing persons case. We can assist each other!”
Alarm bells were going off inside Kravitz’s head.
Thankfully Barry jumped in, “I, uh, think maybe you could assist us by staying here, Ango. It’s more paperwork for Krav here if you get hurt, and you know how he hates paperwork.”
“He really doesn’t, sir, but nice try.”
Kravitz decided he should just stop being thankful for Barry, however briefly.
Especially when he decided to try again with, “Trust me kid, you shouldn’t be in such a rush to see the Astral Plane. I’ve been avoiding it for-”
“Angus McDonald,” Kravitz tactically interrupted, “I know you’re a good detective, but this is a genuinely dangerous cult-”
“I bet neither of you knows how to pick a lock! How are you going to get the captives out if they’re locked up somewhere?” Angus sounded smug.
It was Kravitz and Barry’s turn to share a look.
“It’s not your concern-” Kravitz tried.
“I could cast Knock-” suggested Barry at the same time.
Angus looked at them doubtfully.
“Knock makes a sound that carries 300 feet around, alerting any possible cultists in the area, as well as anything else in this forest.”
Kravitz tried to sound authoritative, “there are no more cultists in the area.”
He could feel Barry side-eyeing him, probably because the lich was aware that he knew no such thing.
Kravitz elected to ignore him.
“Good!” Angus chirped, “then there’s no more danger!”
He hopped down from his perch and started walking.
I had wanted to put this up earlier, but this has been... A Week. I'd love to know what you think now the favourite boy is finally here!!
Chapter 4: But it's better if you don't
So you may have noticed I upped the total chapter count... This was supposed to be the last chapter but it got uhhhh long.
Also, spells in this fic work however I say they do. Liches are made of magic, they can do weird shit with it for sure.
Kravitz could feel his headache creeping back.
He feels like perhaps at this point he shouldn’t be surprised that this literal child had managed to talk circles around two old and powerful beings, but he still can’t quite wrap his wrung-dry mind around how it had happened.
Not that Kravitz actually knows how old Barry is. The most thought he’s ever put into it amounted to ‘approximately old enough to be a fucking powerful lich who keeps fucking escaping - though not without a fight’. But that didn’t quite leave him with an exact age, or even a good estimate.
To be fair, Kravitz also didn’t know exactly how old he was himself.
Perhaps Angus McDonald had defeated them through the power of being quite sure of his own age.
A more plausible excuse could be to blame his current exhaustion, which would also account for the bizarre direction of his thoughts... but Angus has done this to him before, even when he was fresh and free of headaches.
Probably, the child is just like that .
With nothing better to do, and receiving only a shrugging motion from Barry, he hurried to follow the boy detective through the dark forest towards the captives. He had meant his earlier words, there may not have been much to worry an indeterminately-aged lich or reaper, but there were a lot of levels between them and a nine-year-old detective.
Musing on his current company made Kravitz want to pray to his Queen for strength. But imagining her opinions about said company made him think better of it.
His Queen had known about Angus McDonald since the ‘zombie horse’ case, as it was apparently nicknamed. Kravitz’s report on that case had prompted both amusement and concern; especially when he had clarified that the McDonald child was indeed a brilliant detective, and definitely showed no signs of ceasing his enthusiastic leaps into danger.
The Raven Queen did not like to meet brilliant young souls any sooner than she had to.
And, of course, She was very much aware of Barry Bluejeans.
His continued existence in the Material Plane was a source of personal and professional irritation for Kravitz, and he could only imagine that his Queen felt even more strongly about one who so openly and severely flouted Her rules.
Kravitz didn’t want to think about having to explain himself in the report for this night - no need to borrow from future-Kravitz’s headaches when he had more than enough right now. He was too pragmatic to regret not fighting Barry in his current state, there was nothing to be gained from losing a fight just to prove a point. Principles were worth fighting for, but there was no need to be stupid about it.
Still, Kravitz had a suspicion that finding a lich, talking to him, then working with him to rescue possible captives would make a lot less sense when it was inked onto the the official parchment than it did right now, walking through a forest in uncomfortably comfortable companionship. While following a literal child.
Oh yes, the Raven Queen was going to have questions about this one.
Kravitz just hoped she didn’t laugh at him this time.
He was paying enough attention to his surroundings this time that when Angus stopped suddenly, so did he. He was in no mood to be startled by anything or anyone else - he’d been lucky that it had been someone not actively hostile to Kravitz both times tonight, but he was fairly out of acquaintances at this point.
Barry, however, was clearly adrift in more ways than one and nearly floated right into Angus’ back, stopped by a quiet hiss of his name from Kravitz.
The lich drew breath to speak - a habit he must have kept from when he had lungs and a body, however long ago that was.
He was stopped by Angus holding up a finger in a clear gesture to wait, and Kravitz realised what had stopped their rag-tag party: there were faint voices ahead, and dim torchlight visible through the trees.
He had barely registered this when Angus turned around, an accusing and disappointed expression on his face.
Once again, Kravitz was sure that kind of look would be more effective when he was a little older, and didn’t have the kind of face that made people want to tuck him under their robe and take him to safety. Not Kravitz, of course, just people in general.
“Sir. You told me there were no more cultists in this forest. I can’t effectively investigate this case if you are giving me misinformation.”
Kravitz fought the urge to remind him that he did not want him investigating this case. Past experience had shown him again and again how that road led nowhere productive.
Barry rounded on him too, and said in a mock-accusatory whisper, “yeah, Kravitz, why did you lie to the kid?”
At least Kravitz could enjoy the fact that neither of the people currently trying to glare at him could manage it with any level of success. Angus just looked cute, and Barry lacked the usual features generally used to glare; his flame-eyes narrowed but not capable of much expression.
Kravitz didn’t necessarily want to encourage the boy detective, but…
“So how do you know that they’re cultists and not the captives, or, say, hunters?”
Angus looked torn between sharing his deductive skills and continuing to try in vain to make Kravitz feel bad for his earlier deception by glaring cutely at him. The former won out, as Kravitz knew it would. The young detective could never resist sharing his knowledge and investigative prowess for long.
“Well, sir, clearly they’re not captives because they’re walking around outside. And if I was a necromancy cult hiding captives in the forest I wouldn’t do it in an area that hunters frequent. Of course, you can’t always rely on people to make logical decisions about things like that, so the fact that it’s the middle of winter - hardly hunting season - helps too.”
Kravitz noticed for the first time that Angus was indeed bundled up like fantasy marshmallow in a very puffy green jacket and gloves. He wondered if the jacket colour was chosen specifically for its possible camouflaging abilities, that seemed like the kind of practical thing the child would do.
Angus looked only slightly less proud of himself when he added, “and also I heard one say something about the end of their shift, so I can deduce that they are guarding the captives in shifts, which makes sense. But it was only luck that I overheard that, and I would have still worked out what was going on without it. A good detective can’t rely on luck, they have to make their own!”
“Adorable.” Barry whispered, probably to himself.
Kravitz privately agreed, but he wasn’t about to say so out loud.
As it was unlikely that Angus had missed his comment, given his apparently excellent hearing, it would seem that he had chosen to ignore Barry. A decision Kravitz could definitely support.
“Anyway, sirs,” Angus continued brightly, “we’d better take down those guards so we can rescue those missing persons!”
Kravitz frowned at him, red eyes glowing with displeasure even in the darkness of the forest.
“There will be no ‘we’ in this instance. There will be only me, a trained reaper, dealing with some necromancers, which is my job.”
Angus looked like he was about to protest.
Kravitz cut him off, “there will not be a nine-year-old, no matter how good his detective skills are. And there will not be a lich, who is by all rights a far worse criminal than these cultists.”
Barry was managing to give off a very unimpressed air. Whether it was in response to Kravitz’s words or in regards to Kravitz’s ability to keep him out of a fight he wanted to be in, that was not clear. Only so much could be conveyed by a spectral entity, after all.
Angus looked like he wanted to pout, but didn’t want to seem like a child.
“What is the point,” Barry wanted to know, “of bringing along a spooky death criminal lich along if you aren’t going to- if you’re not let me do any heavy lifting? You’ve taken down a dozen cultists already, buddy, what’s the harm in letting me take these ones?”
Barry seemed like he was trying to communicate something with Kravitz over Angus’ head, and Angus obviously felt this as well because he had forgotten about the pouting dilemma and was now squinting at Barry through his thick glasses.
He continued, “and you could always argue that it’s, uh, a chance to study my magic or something. In your report, or whatever you guys do.”
The reminder that Kravitz would have to justify his actions in a report later sent a fresh wave of exhaustion sweeping over him - and it finally clicked.
Barry was apparently trying to cover for Kravitz’s current tired state without letting on to Angus that the reaper was not performing at peak condition right now. It was possibly naïve to imagine that their tiny perceptive companion hadn’t already detected this, and Kravitz almost wanted to ask Barry where this uncharacteristic tact had come from, but decided to just appreciate it instead.
He was done trying to decode Barry’s inexplicable behaviour tonight, it was responsible for at least 30% of Kravitz’s headache.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter too much who takes care of the remaining cultists at this point-”
“You can say ‘kill’ in front of me, sir,” Angus piped up.
Kravitz honestly had no response for that, and was starting to suspect he’d found another partial cause for his headache.
“...and this way I can keep an eye on Angus. For his own protection. ”
Angus looked like he wanted to pout again, but at least didn’t start another argument about whether he needed to be kept an eye on or not.
Barry nodded his hooded spectral head at Kravitz, and the three started forwards slowly towards the lights and voices. Kravitz and Angus were careful to step as quietly as possible, while Barry was able to glide silently above the ground.
Kravitz stopped at what he deemed to be a safe distance away and held out an unnecessary arm to stop Angus, who had already seen him stop and stayed beside him without a fight. Kravitz was appreciative of small miracles on this too-long night.
From their position, he could see a small stone building through the trees, which thinned out a little past the point they were standing. Leaning against the structure, next to the two flaming torches, were two chatting figures cloaked in ugly black fabric. Definitely the right place.
Kravitz felt that he and Angus were a nice safe distance away, secure in the darkness of the forest - especially as the cultists would have terrible night vision from standing right next to the torches.
He was grateful for amateurs, sometimes. Not that he was willing to underestimate these cultists again.
Barry continued to glide silently closer to the chatting guards, getting close enough for the torchlight to make his usually semi-translucent red robe glow brightly, looking almost solid against the backdrop of the grey stone building.
The guard that had been talking finally noticed the ghostly necromantic figure that was almost upon them, but before they could take the breath to yell, their head was enveloped with a strange dark miasma, blocking off their air.
The other guard, who had looked about ready to drift off under the tide of their partner’s constant chatter, finally noticed something was wrong and nearly fell over when they saw Barry with his arms out, slowly choking the life out of the first cultist.
The opaque black energy covering the guard’s head clearly required concentration, as Barry merely moved out of the way of the second cultist’s hasty attempt to fire a spell at the lich.
Kravitz was somewhat confused. He had first-hand experience with Barry Bluejeans’ vast capabilities for creative and destructive magic, but he was using none of it right now, opting instead to hover next to the first cultist, who was slowly choking, and using him as a barrier against the second guard.
It occurred to the reaper that Barry was probably trying to keep this fight relatively clean for Angus, who was almost certainly watching the fight.
The thought was possibly true but also uncharitable, Kravitz realised; Barry had never shown any proclivity for unnecessary suffering. He was just as likely to be taking the cultists down cleanly for Angus’ sake as he was just because he was, despite all odds, a gentle soul when he had the option.
It was certainly an uncomfortable description for a creature who had warped his soul with dark magic for the sake of power, and Kravitz might have been glad for a distraction from the discomfiting though - had it been any other kind of distraction.
As it was, the cultist not currently being engaged by Barry had given up trying to fire spells at the lich now that he was hiding behind the other guard. Despite how long it had taken them to see the bright red spectre hovering towards them with murderous intent, this cultist had somehow managed to notice Kravitz standing in the trees and was about to fire, probably literally if these cultists were as unimaginative as the rest, in his direction.
Kravitz might have been happy to try and dodge the spell, but he had the sudden and gut-wrenching realisation that Angus he couldn't see Angus, and dodging the spell may well lead to the child getting hit.
His decision was made easier when the cultist’s wand produced two magic missiles; one aimed at Kravitz and the other two metres to his left where he could now make out a small figure blocked mostly from his view by a tree.
Kravitz reacted instinctively by creating a small shield around the child, certainly enough to stop a magic missile, which meant that the other missile hit its intended undead target.
He took the small hit with a disproportionate amount of irritation and turned to try and do something about the second cultist. This meant that he missed Angus producing a small handheld crossbow, and was quite surprised by the quiet twang from his left and the bolt that buried itself in the cultist in the arm.
By this point Barry had noticed that the second cultist was no longer attacking him, and finally finished with the first, letting them fall to the ground and dissipating the dark miasma around their head.
The remaining guard looked enraged about the bolt in their upper arm, but did not get the chance to finish pointing their wand at Angus.
Barry had crossed the small distance between them and put his incorporeal arm right through the middle of their chest, sending them into uncontrollable spasms. He was clearly uninterested in letting the cultist get even one more spell off in the direction of their young companion.
The cultist had the chance to cough up blood only once before they crumpled to the ground, still.
Kravitz thought, too late, to spare the child from this view but Angus only looked curious. Kravitz hoped he wouldn’t need to stage a ‘Don’t Do Necromancy’ talk in the near future, and resolved to blame it all on Barry’s bad influence.
And he still didn’t know how the detective had met the lich, though he strongly suspected that was just a result of Angus’ talent for finding trouble. Which was, coincidentally, how he had met the boy detective also.
Now that the immediate danger had passed, Kravitz’s exhausted mind caught up with how close that had been. Far, far too close.
Kravitz was still searching for the words that would express his panic in a way that would convince Angus to not risk his life again , when Barry’s words floated over to them ahead of the lich himself, sounding only slightly less panicked than Kravitz felt.
“That’s uh, a nifty little crossbow you got there kiddo, but could you possibly, maybe, please not ever do that, like, ever again?”
Barry honestly looked like if he’d had a heart, it would be in danger of failure right now. For some reason, Kravitz couldn’t quite bring himself to say so out loud.
Angus looked at his crossbow and shrugged. “I’ve had to use it before. I don’t always run into friendly reapers or liches on my more ‘mundane’ cases so I have to get myself out of trouble.” He looked at Kravitz, “thank you for the shield though, sir, I appreciate it.”
Kravitz tried to project all the dire seriousness of his age and position into his voice when he said, “Angus, you can show your appreciation by not getting involved with necromancy cults again . Please, this is dangerous . You could have been hurt .”
He could see the doubt on Angus’ face, so he tried again.
“Alright, how about if you do happen to stumble onto something you think might be related to necromancy, no matter how tiny, you tell me? I won’t stop you investigating, you just need to let me do my job as well...”
He trailed off when realised Angus wasn’t looking at him, but rather over his shoulder, in a very uncharacteristic display of rudeness for the normally exceedingly polite child.
Angus lifted his hand to point behind Kravitz, “if you want me to tell you when I see necromancers, then I should probably let you know about the one that’s about to get away!”
Kravitz whipped around in time to see what must have been a third guard who had apparently been elsewhere for the last few minutes, who had just rounded the corner of the hut and spotted the bodies of the other two guards.
In a show of remarkable wisdom, but very little bravery, the cultist dropped what appeared to be a flask and starting sprinting away into the forest.
They made it barely ten feet before they were hit by two bolts of arcane energy, one of pure necromantic energy and one of more conventional magic.
The cultist was blasted forwards and hit a tree with a sickening smack, then falling in a heap to the forest floor.
So much for sparing Angus.
Barry and Kravitz looked at each other, and the lich held up a robe sleeve, as if for a high-five. He held it there for a few seconds before before realising how ineffective a high-five with an incorporeal being would be, and awkwardly dropped it.
Angus had a considering look on his face and was aiming it squarely at Kravitz.
“You don’t use spells a lot, sir, you usually go for…” he trailed off and made a gesture that could generously be interpreted as a scything motion. “Before tonight, I didn’t know that you could do regular spells - I had considered that you might just be magical by nature, like Mr Bluejeans.”
Kravitz did not appreciate the comparison, but he knew Angus didn’t mean anything by it.
“Yes,” he summoned his scythe, “it’s cleaner and quicker - and it doesn’t run out of spell slots in the middle of a fight.”
The child nodded along, looking like he now had at least ten more questions.
Barry was also nodding, “I bet it doesn’t hurt that it fits your spooky reaper-man aesthetic, either.”
Kravitz frowned. It was true, but he didn’t have to say it
“Not to mention it does- it’s like a guaranteed one-hit kill! Although you can do that with a couple of spells, too. Did you know that Power Word Kill was originally developed by-”
“Alright don’t we have some captives to rescue?” Kravitz would compare this to herding cats, except he’d had some perfectly sweet cat spirit companions over the years.
Sometimes, animal spirits would have some trouble crossing over and needed some help. And if sometimes, those spirits would end up in Kravitz’s little house in the Astral Plane and make it feel a little less empty for a while, well there was nothing wrong with that.
In fact, Purrsephone was likely snoozing on his unfinished paperwork at this very moment…
But he had captives to rescue and the rest of this night to get through before he could return and pet her soft little head.
Chapter 5: That really ruffles my feathers
Please accept this (very late) offering. I flew too close to the sun, trying to finish this before the final hell weeks of my semester.
And also, finishing this has been more difficult than anticipated, because it does not want to be finished.
So here is a shorter chapter to hopefully tide you over while I try to make these characters stop having long conversations and unexpected heartfelt moments long enough to actually wrap this up!
Much love, as always, to littlelionlady, I hope this makes you smile at least once.
If he stood here much longer daydreaming about soft cats and paperwork, Kravitz realised, one of two things was going to happen. Either Barry Bluejeans was going to insult his professionalism, or Barry Bluejeans was going to start talking about necromancy again.
This pattern had been discerned through years of encounters - and Kravitz did not enjoy either of the available options.
He decided the best thing to do in order to keep everything from devolving yet again was to lead by example. Which, in this case, meant moving on to the actual rescuing of the captives before Barry could segue somehow into necromancy tips for the literal child accompanying them.
Kravitz strode his way through the scattered trees towards the tiny clearing that was only barely large enough to fit the roughly-hewn stone structure that sat in it.
He could hear Angus eagerly crunching his way over the frozen ground behind him, now that there was no need for stealth. And if he concentrated his inhuman senses, he could feel the uneasy buzzing in the back of his teeth that signalled the presence of necromantic energy too close for comfort.
And if that description didn’t sum up his relationship with Barry Bluejeans…
The thick wooden door to the hut was barred from the outside, rather than properly locked, so Kravitz was able to open it - just in time for Angus to rush past him, eager to be the first one in the room despite having just narrowly avoided a spell to the face barely a minute ago.
Kravitz was going to have to talk to the child about safety precautions again.
For all the good it seemed to have done him the previous times.
Kravitz followed Angus in, and saw him dart straight to the wall made of vertical bars that cut the dimly lit stone room in half, squeaking a quick “Hello there!” to the cell’s three surprised looking occupants.
“I’m Angus McDonald, world’s greatest detective, and I’m here to get you out!”
He proved this by kneeling swiftly down before the locked door and producing a lockpicking kit from his little satchel as he spoke.
Kravitz barely had time to see the surprised expressions of the captives upon seeing a small child dash into the room, before they looked up as he and Barry entered the room.
Upon seeing them, one of the captives shrieked while the other two visibly paled, and all moved as far back from them as possible in the half of the small room that was behind bars.
Kravitz shot Barry a sideways glance, trying not to smirk unprofessionally at the lich. Not that Barry was likely to think of him as especially professional, after this many years.
He cleared his throat, and tried to conjure up his Most Friendly Voice, the one that he didn’t have much occasion to practice.
“Well now, while I really hate to discourage you all from being rightly terrified of liches, this time he’s with us.”
Kravitz tried on a comforting smile. It didn’t fit.
The captives shifted nervously, looking at each other and avoiding the eyes of all three newcomers.
Angus didn’t look up at their weird behaviour, too focused on the locked cell door and the little tools he was poking into it.
Barry might have been trying to tone down his spookiness, or maybe he was just sinking lower to the ground and partially behind Kravitz out of a sudden onset shyness that the reaper wished he would become afflicted with more often.
Eventually, after many pointed glances and vague shrugs in their direction, a halfling behind the bars cleared her throat and said nervously, “I… I take it you’re not a- a cultist then?”
Kravitz was about to ask worriedly whether the cultists had previously employed any floating ghostly beings that they know about, when Angus paused in his rogue-ish activity to say, “Sir, I think…” and turned around to eye Kravitz speculatively.
“I think that they thought you were a cultist yourself, sir.”
As if Kravitz wasn’t offended enough already, Barry floated out from his partial Kravitz-cover and nodded along.
“It’s, uh, probably the robe situation,” he gestured vaguely at the reaper.
“The robe situation?! ” Kravitz sputtered.
“You know,” Barry explained, in what he probably thought was a gentle rather than condescending tone, “you’re wearing a, uh, black robe? And so were the cultists we kil- uh, ‘took care of’?”
Kravitz drew himself up so he was taller than Barry, even though he knew the lich could just float higher if he really wanted to be petty.
“This robe was a gift from the Raven Queen herself - She who has dominion over death and all the afterlife. It was crafted from feathers lighter than any bird’s, that shall protect the wearer of this cloak until the very concept of death is but a memory lost to the tides of eternity. It contains multitudes within-”
“Yeah, okay, yeah we got it buddy. It’s a very neat robe. You can see,” he gestured to himself, “that I’m a robe guy too, but let’s stop with the dramatics, maybe? It’s not their fault the cultists stole your look.”
Kravitz gave Barry a look that he hoped conveyed what he thought of Barry dismissing his impassioned defense of his robe as ‘dramatics’.
Unfortunately, the lich returned with a ‘hmph’ sound that promised he knew dramatics when he saw them, and was not impressed.
Kravitz frowned harder, figuring that if he had a face right now he might as well use it.
“I’ll be generous, shall I, and assume you didn’t see those sad excuses for cloaks - those crimes against good taste - when you ‘took care of’ the guards outside. But I assure you: they did not ‘steal my look’, nor could they hope to even if they wanted to.”
Barry raised his red spectral sleeves in his best approximation of putting up his hands in surrender.
“Alright, alright. Your cloak is beautiful and made from death itself or whatever, and their cloaks were hideous and worse than their death crimes.”
“And very flammable,” Kravitz added, ignoring the obvious sarcasm.
The halfling who had spoken before had inched forward, looking confused but captivated by the strange verbal sparring happening on the other side of the room.
She cleared her throat and did her best to look Kravitz in the eyes - a noteworthy feat, considering they glowed as fresh and red as Barry’s cloak, but without the transparency to temper the shock of crimson.
“So, it seems like, maybe you’re here to rescue us? And, maybe, the cultist people are… dead?”
Angus finally stood up from the lock on the barred cell door, a slightly peeved expression on his face.
“I did tell you I was here to rescue you when I came in.”
And to punctuate his point, he pressed the lockpicks down a final time, and the cell door swung creakily open in front of him.
Kravitz couldn’t fault the boy for having a good flair for the dramatic. He wondered if he would like a nice, warm, protective cloak to swish around in…
The halfling, along with the cell’s other two occupants, looked quite surprised.
Angus stepped out of the way, opening the door fully to let them step out.
“Well, er…” the halfling stepped out of the door and Kravitz could now see she looked slightly embarrassed.
“We, uh, that is, I didn’t really take you seriously? There was just a, uh, kid in here all of a sudden saying something about McDonald and rescuing but then I thought there was a cultist and some kind of… ghost?”
“That’s very understandable. We’ll start over: my name is Angus McDonald, and I’m the world’s greatest detective! Which isn’t a boast, as I hope you can see by the fact that I did manage to locate and rescue you just now.”
The other two captives had made their way out of the cell too and were blinking at Angus’ rapid chatter.
“And these are my two associates behind me!” The young detective continued, “I don’t want to be rude by not introducing them, but it would be even more rude to introduce people who might not want to be introduced.”
Kravitz could see Barry waving next to him, and had to fight the urge to slap the spectral sleeve down and tell him to stop being friendly. It would give these people the wrong impression about liches.
In the spirit of forgiving these unfortunate people for their offensive cloak assumptions, and reaching a faster conclusion to this ridiculous night, Kravitz put his comforting smile back on.
The human woman quickly looked away from Kravitz, a slightly disconcerted expression on her face.
Kravitz was a little put out, but was not particularly interested in addressing her reaction; or that of the lich next to him, who was muffling his laughter at the reaper’s failure to be even remotely comforting. It’s not like Barry was alive either, he had no room to judge Kravitz for being out of practice.
The halfling had clearly settled on Angus as the least unnerving of her rescuers, which was probably fair. The boy detective did not exactly have a threatening aura.
“So, well, Angus McDonald was it? Thanks for getting us out of there. Please don’t think I don’t appreciate that, because I really do… But aren’t you a little young for this kind of ‘detective’ work? Those cultists were no joke.”
One of the other two ex-captives finally looked like he’d tuned back into the conversation after the shock of being rescued by a child, a cloaked not-cultist, and a lich.
“Wait - you said Angus McDonald?” The dwarven man looked at the child curiously.
“You solved my cousin’s murder!” He exclaimed, not waiting for an answer, “Drewden Stonevaren, we thought she might be hauntin’ us because her things were going missin’, you see, but it turned out she’d gone and faked her own death and was impersonatin’ her husband, who she’d actually murdered, because he’d been sabotagin’ her pumpkin garden all these years instead of just tellin’ her he hated eatin’ pumpkin! That was a right mess, and you solved it before I’d even made it to Goldcliff for the funeral! You’re a popular topic with the militia there, kid, and most of it was even nice.”
The human standing next to him had gone on an intense face journey, ending with deep concern bordering on horror, while the dwarf told his story.
Kravitz could relate.
“Yes! I absolutely remember! Murder by pumpkin seed was a new one for me, but it turned out to be the key to the whole thing! I tried to be nice about it when I explained it all to the militia. I’m glad they’re still saying mostly nice things about me even though some of them don’t like a kid solving their cases.” Angus enthused, looking much more gratified now that someone seemed impressed with his detective skills.
“Now, everyone, we should start heading back to the village nearby and we can sort it all out from there,” Angus starting ushering out the slightly confused rescuees.
They all awkwardly shuffled out the door, except for Barry who decided to go through the wall because he was a dramatic spectral child who only masqueraded as a serious and evil lich.
Kravitz was surprised to note that there were no magically damaged bodies on the ground - Barry must have dealt with them, though he hadn’t seen him do it, but he was glad someone had thought to spare their already shaken company that sight.
Angus stopped once they were all gathered just outside the door, he and the living members of their group quickly chilled by the winter temperatures, and looked at Kravitz.
“I know you have a job you might need to get back to, sir, and,” Angus looked over at Barry, “I really have no idea what you do when you’re not turning up at crime scenes and trying to be spooky? But if you wanted to help me get everyone safely back to the village that would be neat. I think everyone might feel somewhat safer if we were armed with a little more than my hand crossbow.”
Barry laughed, “I got nowhere to be right now, kiddo, I’ll come scare away the monsters in the forest.”
Kravitz wanted to go home to his cat. He wanted to take off his face and be incorporeal and free from this body, and from Barry Bluejeans and the headache he brought with him.
Instead, he allowed none of his exhaustion to creep into his voice as he said, “I’d rather see this whole thing to the end, if you don’t mind. Procedure, you understand.”
Angus, who understood none of the Astral Plane’s procedure because none of the living were allowed to, nodded at him and set off in the direction they’d first come from.
Chapter 6: So call me maybe
So here we are folks, the end!
This chapter is MORE THAN TWICE THE LENGTH of any of the others, because tbh the characters (especially Barry) would not stop talking.
So enjoy the double-length season finale!
**This chapter title is a little bit in reference to how much Griffin loves Carly Rae Jepsen (same)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Only a few steps into the forest it became clear that this cold hike back to civilisation was turning into a cold and awkward hike back to civilisation.
Angus slowed down so he was no longer out in front of the group, and cleared his throat.
“I forgot to tell everyone back there how I found you, what with all the… distractions and all.” He pointedly did not look at Barry or Kravitz; he appeared to be trying to engage their recently freed acquaintances rather than calling anyone out.
“Mr Corvin Achatels,” he nodded at the quiet human who had edged away from the dwarf with the crazy family, “I was contacted by your fiancé to find you after you went missing four days ago. He said you’d never missed Tuesday night music practice, and he knew instantly something was wrong when he got home and saw your violin left out on the table.”
The human looked relieved, “We’ve been playing together on Tuesday nights for years, but right now we’re practicing for our wedding - we’re going to play for each other. I suppose he’ll have to forgive me for missing a week, with an excuse this good.”
Corvin smiled to himself, and the atmosphere of their little group was considerably warmer than a few moments ago. He and the others looked transported to memories of the loved ones they would see again soon.
A wedding. Kravitz didn’t often find himself in the business of saving people, and he found himself unexpectedly glad that he had found this cult in time to save this human, who had a home and a fiancé and a violin.
Kravitz too had a home he too wished he were in, he still played his cello when the feeling took him, but he didn’t think about love very much. Love was so very much the domain of the living, and he had not been alive in a long, long time. The cats he cared for we already dead, merely spirits - as were most beings he interacted with in his day to day existence - and they passed on eventually to become one with the Astral Sea, as all must.
He knew, abstractly, that the bounties he collected had loved ones. Most living beings did. They had families, friends, bonds… and he took them anyway. He knew they were alive, that they must love and be loved, but their lives were forfeit to the Raven Queen for their crimes.
Death had changed his perspective. In the early days that he rarely recalled, Kravitz had felt something when he took lives, even as he knew it was the right thing to do. Now, when he looked at the necromancers, the liches, the countless forsaken and twisted souls whose names made it onto his list, he saw beings who were as good as dead the moment he laid eyes on them. He saw only… dust.
The most Kravitz could say was that he harboured some affection for certain beings on the Material Plane. But this was a recent, and inconvenient, development.
Barry was the only creature on the Material Plane he had spent a significant amount of time with; the only bounty who had made much of an impression apart from annoyance - although there was definitely some annoyance. But he would still take Barry Bluejeans to the Astral Plane one day, regardless of how much he might enjoy their banter. That was the balance of the world.
And wanting Angus McDonald to be a little more careful with his bright and precious life was not the same as love, he was sure of it.
Their haphazard party were all startled from their individual musings by words floating through the silence from behind them, their speaker having drifted to the back of the group and out of sight.
“Yeah, being kidnapped by a weird necromancy cult is, uh, it’s a pretty good excuse for leaving. And I’ll bet, your fiancé, he’d forgive you just about anything if it meant he got to see your face again. If he got to hold you, and hear you play your violin for him.”
Barry had a naturally rough voice already. He had no throat which could get choked up, and he lacked most of the features which could show subtle emotions like sorrow and longing.
“You should do something nice for him when you get back. Spend a whole day with just him - spend a week. You have no idea what he went through- what it did to him to come home and find you gone . But he doesn’t blame you, he could never blame you for this. To have you back, that’s… everything.”
The very forest had gone silent. There were no footsteps on the ground, they had all stopped as one.
Corvin was staring at Barry with a look of understanding. As if he could relate, somehow, to this being that was essentially just a voice coming from under a hooded red robe.
Kravitz knew that Barry had always been more than that. He understood, fundamentally, what a lich was made of, he knew, perhaps more than he’d like to, about the process of warping one’s very soul with magic to create a pure and powerful being that defied the laws of death.
But Kravitz had known hundreds of liches in his service to the Raven Queen - granted, he hadn’t known most of them for very long. Still, this lich was different in ways that defied understanding. Every time he thought he was comfortable, every time he thought he understood, Barry threw him so off kilter that he could never quite get that previous picture of him back.
There he had been, lost in his thoughts about how little he felt connected to love and to living things, how infrequently he truly cared for creatures of the Material Plane outside his sympathy for the dying - and even that was always tempered by the knowledge that their peace would come soon.
And then there was Barry. Speaking of emotions Kravitz had no name for, and sharing some kind of understanding with Corvin about these unnameable feelings. Uttering comfort for love and loss as Kravitz had never known - or couldn’t remember knowing, and that was the same thing, wasn’t it?
Barry spoke of his family sometimes, in roundabout and offhand ways. Kravitz had never thought to wonder what became of them, only to occasionally be curious why a man as seemingly loving and intelligent as Barry would decide to become an abomination.
He thought now that the two might be more connected than he had ever imagined.
“Sir, have you- did you lose someone? Or several someones?”
Angus had also been staring at Barry while Kravitz’s brain swirled in useless circles - but then so had everyone else. It had been a speech that almost demanded some staring.
Barry met Angus’ calculating yet kind look as best he could with his small, burning eyes. Kravitz could almost see the cogs spinning behind the boy detective’s thick glasses, itching to solve the mystery.
“Is that why you do it Angus? To bring people, I don’t know, answers I guess? To tell them where their loved ones went, what they did, how they died? If so, it’s a good thing you do. Closure, and all that stuff.”
Barry was more still than Kravitz had ever seen him. Unnaturally still, even for an unnatural being.
“I try my best to find people alive, when I can. Maybe I could help you-?” Angus tried to offer.
“Nah, kid. You couldn’t. Not even if you wanted to. You don’t have the answers I’m looking for - no one does. Trust me, I’ve been looking long enough to know.”
Angus looked doubtful. “The answers are always somewhere, sir, they’re just often hidden.”
“Sometimes, kiddo, the answers aren’t hidden so much as they’re just forgotten. My family’s gone from me, for now, gone where I can’t reach them.” He straightened, and lifted himself up where he’d been sinking slowly into the ground.
“But don’t you worry about ol’ Barry here, I haven’t given up. I got too much to live for to go with Bird Bones here just yet,” he ‘winked’ his flame-eye at Kravitz once more, earning himself an eye-roll. Kravitz could see the benefits to having a fully expressive face, sometimes.
Barry turned pointedly to Angus, “So, tell us more about how you cracked the case, boy wonder.”
The detective looked at Barry over his glasses, pursing his lips in a clear attempt to convey that he knew a poor attempt at a subject change when he heard one.
But Angus turned and started walking again, looking back over his shoulder to start telling them, “Well, it didn’t take me long to find two other missing persons reports from the two preceding days to Mr Achatels’ disappearance…”
Kravitz tuned out as they all started walking again. He didn’t mean to, he just couldn’t keep his thoughts focused on anything, and couldn’t help but let his mind wander away from Angus’ comfortable background chatter.
Only to tune back in when a single clear thought did occur to him.
“Say, Angus, how did you find out about those missing persons reports? They tend to be confidential police files.” Not that it had ever stopped Kravitz when he needed to find someone.
Those were mortal laws, anyway.
Angus looked slightly guilty, and turned to look at where he was going rather than meet anyone’s eye.
There was a slightly subdued, “I was just speeding up the process. Lieutenant Hurley would have shown me the reports if she was on duty that day, it was just bad luck that it was Lieutenant Korfmann instead.”
Barry was snickering quietly.
Angus continued, with a little more confidence, “Anyway, a good detective makes their own luck! Time is of the essence with missing persons cases and I would be a lesser detective if I let some grumpy desk worker who wouldn’t know a real lead if it bit him on the nose compromise my work!”
He had finished quite heatedly, Barry’s snickering underlying his entire speech.
“Why, Angus!” Kravitz said, grinning audibly. “That was almost rude!”
“I think that was the most almost-rude thing I’ve heard you say.” Barry agreed, still laughing.
Angus turned around to respond but nothing came out of his mouth. He looked firmly caught between his desire to rise above their teasing and his aversion to being rude, even if just by implication.
“Don’t worry lad,” the dwarf quickened his pace so he could gently slap a hand on Angus’ shoulder. “Your pal Yarin Stonevaren will go have a word with this Korfmann. Give him a good talkin’ to about lettin’ brilliant young detectives do his job for him, if he’s not goin’ to!”
Now Angus was truly speechless, and looked a little horrified as Yarin nodded meaningfully while he mimed punching his fist into his palm.
They all watched him look pleadingly at the enthusiastic dwarf for a few moments before the tension broke, as Yarin fell about laughing - great guffaws that set everyone else off too.
Even Angus, eventually.
Kravitz noted with some amusement that this had well and truly achieved what he suspected to be Angus’ original intention: to help their rescuees starting talking, and forget some of their fear and doubt. Distract them a little from what had happened, and from the fact that they were walking through a freezing forest in the middle of the night.
It was a good move, distracting them. He wondered how much practice Angus had with traumatised people, in his line of work. Actually, he wondered how much Angus himself was-
“I really hope you are joking, Mr. Stonevaren, I’d hate to tell your sister that I came all this way only to lose you tragically in this forest,” Angus levelled an unconvincing glare over his glasses.
Yarin just laughed some more, apparently not very concerned by the threats of a nine-year-old.
Choosing to be the bigger person, despite the physical impossibility of the task, Angus continued on.
“ Anyway, the notes section said that your sister filed the missing person’s report after checking every tavern in town when you didn’t show up for work last Monday.”
Angus turned to look at their halfling companion over his shoulder. “And, of course, the missing person's report for Ms Carmentia Marsh was filed by-”
“My mother. Naturally.” She sighed, “literally no one else calls me that, it even says ‘Tia’ on my official Goldcliff Trust account.”
Tia looked thoughtful, “Actually, and I, er, know this is a weird time? But would you be interested in doing some work for the Goldcliff Trust? We’re having some, hm, problems of a sensitive nature that I can’t give details about without permission from my superiors. But we’re not having much luck investigating on our own, so?”
Angus slowed to walk beside Tia, then reached into an inner pocket somewhere and produced an official-looking business card, handing it to her with a gleeful look on his face.
“Oh wow, this looks very professional.”
Tia saw Angus’ expression and quickly backtracked, “You are, of course, a professional, as you’ve demonstrated. I didn’t mean to imply, er… And I wouldn’t go recommending anyone I didn’t think was a professional to my managers to help with sensitive bank issues.”
Corvin saved her from further digging this hole by joining in this recruitment drive.
“Actually Angus, and I don’t know if you do this sort of thing, but if you have time for multiple cases, Matesh and I had kind of a running joke that the wedding venue we booked was a front for some kind of exotic animal smuggling ring. But the more we joked about it the more we realised ‘hey that actually makes a weird amount of sense’, and, well…”
He looked a little guilty, “It would be pretty inconvenient if we had to find another venue two months out, so if you couldn’t start on the case for a little while that would be… Um, not that you’d ignore a potential problem, I’m sure, or that we wouldn’t rather see justice happen than have to re-shuffle some things, of course.”
Angus’ bright, toothy grin was shining in the moonlight as they walked.
“Of course, sir! Your fiancé already has my contact details, obviously, so I hope you don’t mind if I don’t give you a card too?”
Corvin smiled back, “Actually, why don’t you go ahead and give me one anyway - so I can pass your details along to anyone else who might be in need of a great detective?”
Barry hooted unexpectedly next to Kravitz’s ear, fortunately the reaper was too tired to react. “Hell yeah little man! Gotta build your brand - someone pretty clever taught me that.”
Angus looked pleased at all this praise, beaming at Barry before handing Corvin another fancy little card.
There was so much spring in the boy’s step now that Kravitz was worried he might hit his head on one of the low-hanging branches that hadn’t previously been a danger to the small detective. As it was, Angus was having to slow his stride every ten feet or so, in order to avoid getting too far ahead of the rest of the reasonably-paced party.
Kravitz was just glad that these didn’t sound like necromancy-related cases, at least.
Although he supposed that Angus could not reasonably have known that this missing persons case would turn out to be a well-resourced necromantic cult kidnapping future sacrifices. Still, the young detective should have some backup in the, unfortunately likely, instance that he stumbled upon more of the same.
He was still trying to work out how to broach the topic with Angus without making him react poorly to the implication that he needed help, especially in front of these people he wanted to appear professional to.
“Angus, could I have a quick word with you, sometime before you run off and finish this case?”
“Ooooh,” a voice floated over, “someone’s in trouble!”
Kravitz felt confident that Barry had definitely forgotten his earlier, somber, mood by this point and was back to his usual inappropriate self. If not a little more… barbed than usual.
As with every other time Kravitz had gotten a glimpse behind the curtain, however, he just couldn’t quite see the same picture as before. Barry’s cheer echoed, almost, in the spaces left by the depth of his sincerity and loss. Maybe it always had, and Kravitz could only hear it now that he knew what to listen for.
Barry often felt like a puzzle that he might never figure out. Or perhaps would only figure out after several decades of visiting him in the Eternal Stockade - if Barry would still speak to him at that point. The idea of seeing Barry locked away, of only talking to him through a cell wall, gave Kravitz no satisfaction anymore. He didn’t burn with the Raven Queen’s justice at the inevitability of locking away another powerful abomination, not like he had in the first few years of chasing him down.
But these were unthinkable thoughts, thoughts to contemplate approximately never - or perhaps at the end of the world, whichever came first.
So Kravitz stopped thinking them. He’d probably given Angus way too much time to overthink his request as it was.
He shot a half-hearted glare behind him, “No one is in trouble except you , as always. I just want to ask Angus something, perhaps in private.”
“Of course, sir! We’re nearly back at the village, and I have a room at the tavern.” Angus looked a little unsure, and glanced at their recent additions to the group.
“I, well, I hope you don’t mind staying the night? Only, it’s the middle of the night, in winter, and we don’t have any way of getting you back to your homes until morning anyway, I know you’re all probably keen to go home…”
“O’ course, lad, I don’t know about the rest of youse but I’ve already been out in this cold far too long. We don’t get wind like this where I’m from - I reckon it has teeth!”
Tia and Corvin were nodding along, looking like they were enjoying a midnight hike through the forest in mid-winter about as much as Yarin was.
“A nice night not to have skin,” Barry chimed in, smugly.
Kravitz couldn’t help but feel that this might have been directed at him, but he fortunately couldn’t feel the cold even with his corporeal form.
Corvin was the only one with a proper reaction to this comment, he looked extremely disconcerted and began walking somewhat faster, and away from Barry.
Tia looked too tired for Barry’s absurd humour, which Kravitz felt was reasonable, and Yarin’s default response to strange situations was apparently to laugh. He was either over his earlier shock, or still firmly in its grasp.
Everyone had followed Corvin’s lead on the faster walking after being reminded of how cold they were, and it was only a few more minutes before they could see the edge of the forest, and some faint lights of the village nearby.
Kravitz stopped just on the edge of the tree line, realising that if he stayed out of sight he wouldn’t have to answer any awkward questions - he could leave that to Angus, who seemed to be good at it.
The whole group stopped when Kravitz did, and he turned to Angus.
“I’ve really been gone long enough, so if you have a moment to talk now…?”
Yarin had already caught on by the time Angus turned to look at their rescuees.
“Don’t worry, this dwarf can find a tavern easier than a bit of good stone! Come on you lot, I need a pint. We’ll see you in there, Angus.”
Yarin drew Tia and Corvin with him, heading towards the faint outline of the only large building in the village that still had torches burning outside.
The dwarf’s voice drifted to them on the wind as he walked away, “Ach, I hope there’s no adventurers in the tavern lookin’ for clues and local gossip. We’ll have to tell them the necromancers are already dead and they’ll be so disappointed...”
Angus faced Kravitz with a gleaming grin almost too big for his face.
“Well, that was fairly successful, wouldn’t you say so, sir? Thank you for all your help! And now I have two new potential cases to start on when I get back!”
“Yes you’re certainly- ‘building your brand’? Was that it?” Kravitz asked uncertainly.
Barry floated over and pretended to lean on the reaper’s shoulder. “Yes, Kravitz, that was it. You’re hip with the cool kids now.”
Kravitz tried to swat him away with little success, so he settled on stepping sideways and leaving Barry awkwardly leaning on thin air.
“You’ve never been ‘hip’ with the ‘cool kids’ in your life, Bluejeans.”
Barry clutched a hand to his chest like he’d been mortally wounded. “I’ll have you know, Kravitz Reaperman-”
“-that I hung out with some extremely cool people in my life and in my death. The coolest, even. We all had, uh, matching jackets and robes - now that’s cool. But also warm!”
Angus was giggling too adorably for Kravitz to be truly annoyed at Barry’s antics. And that was definitely the only reason he chuckled along too.
The boy detective’s giggle was a rare enough phenomenon that he couldn’t find it in himself to discourage it - Angus always had a lot to prove to people, he couldn’t afford to do childish things like giggling.
Hopefully he didn’t have too much to prove to Kravitz anymore, hopefully he’d listen.
“ If we can get back to the conversation at hand,” he sent a pointed look at Barry, who was still pretending to lean on the piece of air that Kravitz’s shoulder had recently occupied, looking for all the world as though he had intended this all along.
Kravitz turned back to Angus and tried to project his sincerity, “I meant what I said earlier - I’d like you to call me if you end up with a case or in a situation that sounds like it might be necromancy, or even just some serious magic. I know you can take care of yourself pretty well, better than a lot of adults, but magic is different, and you just aren’t properly equipped to take it on. And that’s not because of your age.”
He didn’t want to trip Angus over into thinking he was lying to drive his point home, but he really did want to drive his point home.
“And, now I’m not just saying this Angus, you’d also be helping me with my job. It’s more like a favour to me if you call me and I can come deal with any forbidden magic myself; before it gets worse, or before anyone else hears about it and gets bright ideas about raising the dead themselves.”
Angus looked like he was considering Kravitz’s words carefully, not that he had expected anything less from this extremely intelligent boy.
“It would be good to have someone I can call when there’s suspicious magic going on. I’ve been reading up about various magics and rituals but there’s just so much! And a lot of the ancient and forbidden stuff is hard to get access to if you’re not already part of a well-established cult, so I don’t know a lot about it.” Angus paused to take his first breath since he started talking, before continuing, “I thought about trying to go undercover and join one but I don’t think I have a good enough disguise that they’d take me, and it would be a pretty risky move anyway.”
Kravitz slapped his palm to his forehead. It made a more satisfying sound than when he was a skeleton.
At the same time, Barry laughed but it sounded quite strangled. “Yeah, uh, they probably wouldn’t take a kid on. Hopefully. But you, uh, you probably shouldn’t go looking for that kind of stuff anyway. That’s how you get reapers on your tail. Better to have one on speed-dial than on your tail, I imagine.”
Kravitz felt like he’d been doing a lot of Barry-ignoring tonight - but really, why break a habit now?
“Here, Angus, we can attune frequencies” Kravitz pulled out his stone of farspeech from within his cloak, “I, uh, assume you have a stone too?”
He was just thinking of potential ways to procure some Material Plane currency to buy Angus a stone when the child managed to get his out from under his very fluffy coat without opening it and letting the cold air in.
“Oh, good. We don’t actually get great reception in the Astral Plane, there’s all that magical interference and the like, but it should work well enough.”
They were just pressing them together to exchange frequencies, and Kravitz was congratulating himself for a conversation well handled, when Barry felt the need to chime in again.
“Of course, if you’re after a necromancy expert to help you out, you might want my frequency too. I might even know more about it than Kravitz here! After all, isn’t the best way to learn something to actually do it?”
Kravitz concentrated on resisting the urge to turn around and swipe at him with his scythe. He’d jump out of the way, of course, but maybe he’d take a hint. It was unlikely, though.
Angus frowned up at the lich. “You can learn most things books, I’ve found. I didn’t get some kind of… detective apprenticeship, before I started taking cases. I learned a lot from my books! Like picking locks!”
Kravitz wasn’t going to point out that the boy had almost certainly had a steep learning curve on the job, he didn’t feel like helping Barry make his case.
“No, you’re right, of course. Kravitz has had loads more time than me to get super well acquainted with necromancy for sure.” Barry, unwisely, continued, “hey Kravitz, actually, can I have your stone frequency too? For if I wanna tip you off about necromantic activity as well?”
Kravitz thought seriously about chucking his stone at Barry’s head, but then he’d probably just attune them, and he’d have to change his frequency. And explain to the Raven Queen why he’d changed his frequency.
Unaware of Kravitz’s unhappy internal monologue, the lich was still talking. “Like how there was some necromancers a few months back that, uh, decided it was a good idea to have their base a bit too close to mine, and I had to go deal with them myself, which was a real hassle, you know? Next time, I could just call you instead of doing your job for you!”
Now he was sure Barry was definitely trying to vex him for some reason - probably entertainment. Interestingly enough, though, Kravitz remembered the last big group of necromancers that arrived in the Astral Plane without being brought in by a reaper, because it didn’t happen that often. And because someone had to go fish their souls out of the Astral Sea.
These souls had been cross referenced with the book of bounties, in order to properly process and have them sentenced. Kravitz had been the one to do the paperwork; a nasty group, big on ritual sacrifice and tying distressed spirits to the Material Plane, keeping them from finding peace in the afterlife. He had been glad when they were locked away.
Kravitz put his stone back in his cloak and turned to face Barry with a bland smile on his face.
“Sorry, Bluejeans, it’ll take a bit more than that to get my frequency. And frankly, you’re just not my type.”
He wasn’t sure if Barry was trying to disguise his laughter as coughing, or his coughing as laughter. Either way, the sounds he was making would have sounded very concerning coming from a living creature.
Kravitz turned back to Angus and gave him a more genuine smile - they came easier when pointed towards the boy detective than anyone else. He tried not to think about it too much.
“You did a great job here tonight, Angus. Please use that frequency if you need it, my Queen doesn’t like to see bright-burning souls like yours before their time - and the whole Plane can feel it when she’s unhappy.”
Angus smiled back, “I will, sir, a good detective knows when to call in backup.”
For once, Kravitz didn’t question the urge to ruffle Angus’s soft curly hair, making him giggle once more.
“Now, you have a warm tavern to return to, and I-” Kravitz could feel a gentle tugging on his soul.
“It’s fine, Angus, my Queen is just wondering why I’ve been gone so long. She can probably sense the souls I stashed away earlier and haven’t dealt with yet.”
Angus looked like he had approximately three-thousand-and-five questions in response to this new information about the Raven Queen and the Astral Plane, but Kravitz was already summoning his scythe and cutting open a rift to his home.
Kravitz paused only long enough to turn his head and tell Barry, “I’ll give your regards to the Raven Queen, shall I?” Before stepping fully through the portal and letting it close behind him.
It was a pity Barry Bluejeans didn’t have a face, Kravitz felt like he would have treasured the look on it for a long time to come.
Whether you read this chapter by chapter, or all in one hit: thank you so much. I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. This was my first bigger, multi-chaptered fic and I had a blast!
I would love to hear what you thought, or what your favourite bit was - it would, no joke, absolutely make my day to hear your thoughts (even if those thoughts are just some exclamation marks - because same).